Maintaining hope during COVID-19 physical distancing


by Dr. Robert Fine

Mar 20, 2020

I offer these comments on COVID-19 from the perspective of a palliative medicine doctor. I specialize in communicating sad, bad or otherwise hard to hear “serious illness” news while helping the patient, family or staff member maintain hope.

You may not think of it this way but COVID-19 is a “serious illness” and we must regard it as such. It is changing our perception of the present and the future for ourselves and our loved ones.

If you’re like most people, you are not just concerned about “the facts” about this disease. You are also concerned about the meaning of this infection for your life now and in the future. That includes the social effects, potential financial setbacks, educational impact — all those little things that come together to truly make your life what it is. It can be alarming to think that those things may change.

Related: How to cope with anxiety about COVID-19

Add physical distancing to the equation and you may find yourself isolated and alone, facing these fears and worries on your own. While feeling distant from friends and family can create an extra layer of stress, there is still ample room for hope during social distancing.  

There are many positive goals we can put our hope toward during this time: 

  • To stop the spread of the disease quickly by working together for the good of those around us.
  • To prioritize our health by following recommendations and protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • To cure the disease in the future through research. There are promising clinical trials of new treatment approaches even now.
  • To prevent future outbreaks of COVID-19 by developing a vaccine.
  • To show kindness and compassion to others during a time when we are all facing uncertainty.

It is natural to have fears and worries at a time like this, for ourselves and our loved ones, but it’s important to acknowledge that we are all feeling the same stress. Use physical distancing as an opportunity to go out of your way to connect with others. Pick up the phone and call your family members. Start an email thread with a group of friends or set up a video chat. By coming together, we can help each other cope.

Related: Talking to your kids about COVID-19

Try setting a personal goal that you can keep your focus on. For example, doing one kind thing a day for someone else — even from a distance — can help not only that person, but also yourself by giving you purpose. Having a sense of meaning will help you maintain hope.

We may be practicing physical distancing, but we are all in this together. And we can each do our part to share hope with the rest of the world.

About the Author

Dr. Fine is the Clinical Director of the Office of Clinical Ethics and Palliative Care for Baylor Health Care System.

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